On Process as Product
“I wanted, from the beginning, to write a monstrous book. Something small yet forceful, like a talisman. I mean the kind of thing someone would put in their backpack and carry around for weeks without even reading it…” —Sofia Samatar
I surround myself at all times with book talismans; with monstrous books. Books that I don’t even get around to reading for months or even years but whose covers and papered insides are a comfort when I’m writing, sitting, and often when I’m sleeping.
I don’t think of them as inert, even bound as they are. I don’t think of them as lifeless.
I’m realizing more and more these days that I don’t have to squeeze my ideas out of me like I’m a tube of toothpaste to produce something I can be proud of. What if instead of rushing to produce, produce, produce, we looked upon any ‘final product’ as neither final nor as entirely a product? What if we looked upon it as a snapshot of something living, breathing, and in motion?
I’ve been thinking about this coming off the tail end of a couple of difficult weeks where I really haven’t gotten much “done,” as it were. Now, as I approach another semester of teaching (the university at which I’m adjuncting is starting their spring term quite late this year) and a couple of conference presentations down the line, along with hoping to move forward both my dissertation and my novel project, I’ve started to sink into a more expansive understanding of my own creative process.
These upcoming conference presentations were meant to be an opportunity for me to think through my intellectual trajectory in both traditional and experimental forms; I’m presenting a rather standard-form conference paper on “Adversarial Articulation: Detection, Critique, and the Erotics of Oppositionality” as well as giving a creative performance entitled “Working Title: a Contact that Changes You.”
I was so excited to be accepted to both sessions, so I suppose it was only natural to totally freeze up and become unable to do anything related to either for months. The only thing that’s helped me jumpstart the process again has been reconceptualizing how I even think about sharing my work. That’s been a bit of a theme of this newsletter’s past few issues, as I’ve navigated what constitutes work and how to discern what I want to share. Now, I want to ask a related question: how do I move forward through interconnected projects when working with unusual forms and content outside the bounds of traditional scholarship? And how do I know what that form and content even is, especially at the beginning, with so many possibilities?
I’d like to share a tentative answer, in the hopes that it might be supportive for you, and that I’ll be better able to integrate this thought into my process—I don’t actually have to decide what kind of form this project will ultimately take right now, or even, really, ever. Because there doesn’t need to be an ultimate form.
It’s okay for there to be multiple iterations of the same project, the same concept, across different lines of flight. Every opportunity to showcase any given project is just an opportunity to pause and say, okay then, what do we have here, now?
So no, I don’t know right now whether my creative conference piece will be spoken word, or song, or mixed media, or video art. I expect that whatever it ends up being will just be one stop on the line before I keep moving with that same project.
I feel like that takes a lot of the pressure off. I feel like that opens space for maybe a bit of trepidation, but much more of the exhilaration that comes with open spaces.